I was listening to the radio last week–it was a couple of days after the bombs went off in Boston–and the DJ was talking about finding the person/persons who did it. She said, “I hope that we find whoever did this, I hope we bring them to justice, and I hope they go straight to Hell” (I can’t be sure, but it seems like her idea of “bring them to justice” means to kill them as a punishment for the people that they killed and hurt. Incidentally, she used her vocal hopes of eternal damnation as a segue into a spoken advertisement for some sort of dog food. It went “hope they go STRAIGHT TO HELL! *pause….* You know, I love my dog a whole lot, and I want to do what’s best for it….” It was jarring, to say the least).
Most of the time I believed it was garbage when people would say something like “You’re not a Christian if….” followed by whatever. You can’t be a Christian if you’re Pro-Choice. You’re not a Christian if you go to THAT church. You can’t be gay and be a Christian. If you don’t believe that Hell is an eternity of torture, you aren’t really a Christian. You’re not a Christian if you don’t believe in the Trinity, or the Virgin Birth, or the Rapture, or whatever…. There is this dichotomy between “real Christians” and people who just call themselves Christians (Not too surprisingly, the person talking is almost always a part of the group containing the “real Christians”). This is the stuff of division and disunion and denominations…. “They’re geting it all wrong, but WE’VE got it right.”
As much as it can sound arbitrary and judgmental to add these sorts of hardline qualifying statements to right Christian doctrine, I think I’ve decided on one that works for me. Here it is: If you wish Hell on another person, you’re not a Christian. Let me qualify that, because “Christian” can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people (as can “Hell”). If you believe (I don’t, but many people do) that Hell is an eternity of torture–one where someone’s essence is prolonged in tortuous agony for a million years, and when that million years is up, you still have a billion years to go, followed by a trillion more years of torture after that–and you think another person’s actions DESERVE that fate and you wish that on them, then you probably don’t know Jesus at all. He hasn’t changed your heart. You aren’t aware of how depraved you are…. Or the gigantic grace and God-sized love that saved you. And if you would wish an eternity of torture on someone else, regardless of the heinous act a person may have committed, you are probably way more in danger of the fires of some sort of Hell than any misguided kid who sets off a bomb in a crowd of people.
Not too long ago, I met an old Quaker. He was a man in his 80’s, he was wearing overalls that looked to be older than me, and his every movement and word seemed to be thick with love and peace. He’s a man who has spent the last 40 years going to visit death row inmates. He goes into the prisons in an attempt to bring some light and love into a place that tries as hard as possible to dehumanize people who have done some terrible things. He started doing this after his daughter was murdered. The men have to have been on death row for at least fifteen years before they are allowed to come to his class. He talked about how these men are not the same people who committed those crimes that ended someone’s life–crimes that, in turn, resulted in those men being told they are not worth keeping alive. He is an advocate for these men and their humanness, despite the horrific actions of their youth. He is an advocate for love and mercy and forgiveness. And he is an advocate for Jesus–Not the counterfeit Jesus that’s full of hate and damnation for everyone who doesn’t hold your group’s particular understanding of doctrine, but the Jesus who looked at an unbaptized, condemned criminal on a cross next to him and said, “Today, you’re going to be with me in paradise.” The Jesus who told the people that the Samaritan (who believed all the wrong things) was doing a better job of following the command to love than the priests were doing (who had all the “right” doctrine). You know–The Jesus of the Bible.
At this very moment, there is probably a person somewhere in the world right now praying that you go straight to hell. Maybe it’s a man somewhere far away from here. Maybe it’s the father of a murdered daughter. Maybe it was a daughter who was killed by a drone attack while playing at a birthday party. But there is no power in “an eye for an eye.” There is no inspiration in vengeance…. There is only more death. As unforgivable as a person’s actions/crimes/sins might seem, it is mercy, forgiveness, love that inspires the world. People cheering when Osama Bin Laden died…. People crying out for the death penalty…. People demanding an quick dismissal to an eternity of torture–These are NOT the actions of a people who follow Jesus. They are the actions of people who don’t realize or don’t remember that they’ve received mercy. And that’s some scary stuff, especially if you consider that Jesus might have meant it when he said “the way that you judge others will be the way that you will be judged, and you will be evaluated by the standard with which you evaluate others.”
I know, I know…. This one was hilarious. My very wise wife is telling me I need to step up the funny, but this past week was a kick in the nuts. But really though, what’s funnier than telling self-righteous people that they don’t really know Jesus, right? I’ll tell you what’s funnier: My next blog post. Count on it.